Top FifTEeN of 2020 (Heh! No one will notice the extra five, right?)

This has been an unusual year (such an understatement!) and (not shockingly) it’s translated to what I wound up reading this year… (so much insight!) But like every previous year, it was a struggle to decide which books and why. Hopefully you’ll find a new book to try or you’ll have a happy “oh! meeee too!” moment! (Bonus comments in parentheses because you can’t see me doing eyerolls at myself. Enjoy!)

Now let’s get on to the goods, in alphabetical order by author, The Books:

Adult Fiction

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen

It felt like reading an excellent BBC series: engaging characters, smart mystery, and a great WWII time/place setting. The second book in the series will be out before the end of the year: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers! (Historical Mystery)

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Mr. Backman can write a likable,  curmudgeonly character like few can but this book is really more of an ensemble journey and each character has their own quirky personality. The beginning is a little dark but quickly becomes an uplifting story of how individuals can build their own supportive community. (General Fiction)

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Just like when you hear about any picture of a perfect wife, husband, or marriage, it becomes clear there is no such thing as perfect. Quiet and thoughtful, suspenseful and satisfying, this book was everything I wanted it to be. (General Fiction)

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One and was a little worried the sequel wouldn’t live up to the original, what a waste of a decent worry! All the pop culture references, interesting future-thinking ideas, and plenty of exciting plot twists, this is *chef’s kiss* a delight! Fun extra -the IRL setting is Columbus, Ohio!(General Fiction/Science Fiction)

Weather by Jenny Offill

Odd, quirky, sometimes uncomfortable, and completely engaging. If you’re looking for a book short on pages and long on impact, this might be the one for you! (Literary Fiction)

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was on my list last year and prompted me to read this older title by the same author. Yep, just as good! It’s a long-game mystery with shades of The Shining suspense. (Mystery)

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

The family relationships, the wanting to be a part of something while also needing to be an individual, watching how society’s views on a variety of topics changed with the decades, all made each page of this book a pleasure. If you grew up in a small town, you’ll feel this story that much more deeply. (General Fiction)

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Mix a little Thin Man, Nick and Nora, with a little Mickey Spillane, add a female Sherlock Holmes and Watson, put World War II espionage into the background, and you’ll get close to understanding why you want to read this next. It’s a debut and I’m typing this with my fingers crossed that the second book will be coming soon! (Historical Mystery)

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

This author consistently connects her characters and action in smart and surprising ways, with conclusions that are unexpected and satisfying. I’ve only listened to the audio versions of Ms. Steadman’s books, and I don’t plan to change that, it’s like hearing a radio drama with all the sound effects a listener could hope for! (Mystery)

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Charming and insightful, this is the story of a “bot” who has a degree of self-awareness that he needs to seek therapy before going on a journey to fulfill his dreams. It’s not a simple journey as he needs to hide his true nature as our society is prejudiced against AI and are as likely to attack him as help him. You might shed a tear or two along the way, but it’s worth it. (General Fiction)

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

If you like superhero/supervillain movies or you’ve watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, you will love every page of this book. Anna shows some small but special abilities with numbers but she’s tired of being a contract worker for whichever villain needs temporary help. Offered what seemed to be an easy and high paying gig changed everything, just not for the better. With engaging characters, interesting thoughts on how we think of good vs. evil, and some really clever surprises, this book checked all the boxes for me this year. (General or Science Fiction)

Adult Nonfiction

Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America  by David Giffels

The 2020 General Election may have cost Ohio our “bellwether state” title but if you want a better understanding of how one state can represent so much of the entire USA, this book is the one to read. The author uses his own travels to different locations and conversations with individuals to make each experience engaging for the reader. (Nonfiction)

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m embarrassed to say this is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Gladwell but this book sent me off on a “what else” deep dive, and now I’m a die-hard fan. I learned so much but reading the book felt more like I was reading a series of short, connected, stories. If you pick this one up, we can talk about how crazy it is that our brain defaults to what we want to believe even when the facts show a different reality. Just, so good!

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Individually, they are funny and the laughs only increase as they tell how they became a couple. I listened to the audio version and highly recommend this option as Megan and Nick are the readers -it starts to feel like you’re in a candid conversation with new friends.

Teen Fiction

The Darkness Duology: Courting Darkness and Igniting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

The characters and setting are part of the His Fair Assassin series, and it feels like catching up with old friends (who can kick some serious hiney). Sybella must protect her younger sisters from being used as political pawns while also trying to keep the new Queen safe from enemies within the Royal House. The author always provides such strong women as main characters but remembers to give them flaws and quirks so they remain relatable. Ms. LaFevers never disappoints! (Historical Mystery)

Of course, I also think pretty highly of the books I suggested for the RRPL Gift Guide -ya know- and I might be counting those books as part of a bigger list for the year? Anyway… Happy Holidays, with books and snackies, for all!!

-Stacey

Time to Prepare?

There’s still time! You can still bake, and craft, and read, all the holiday treats your 2020 heart desires! (I qualify this to your “2020 heart” as this year is not like the others. Maybe you’re skipping, or maybe you’re all in, it doesn’t feel like there’s one, right answer. Aannyyyywho…)

If you want to make something Buddy the Elf would approve of: Cookies and other Sweet Treats might have a digital book that can help you out!

Rather than hitting all the stores, maybe you want to check out a digital book from Why Buy it When You Can Make it? collection!

Or perhaps you’d like to unwind, read or listen to Holiday Stories for the Young and the Young at Heart -which also tend to be shorter, and great for my minimal attention span?

Maybe you want to sample something from all three options -and then- take a nap! This is a judgement free zone -enjoy what works (plus a piece of candy)!

Stacey

RRPL Gift Guide

I love giving books and will take advantage of any occasion to find something I think will fit my giftee, and that includes pondering if there’s something you might want to gift yourself of course! I sorted the titles into broad ideas of who they might appeal to but left the heavy lifting of plot description to the reviews on bookshop.org (Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mishttps://bookshop.org/books/weather-9780345806901/9780385351102sion to financially support local, independent bookstores.) I hope this list helps you finish off your holiday shopping on a high note!

For your friend who wants something “different”
Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain
The Butterfly Lampshade by Amiee Bender
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
The Darkness Duology by Robin LaFevers
Weather by Jenny Offill
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman

For your friend who wants something “thoughtful”
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Barnstorming Ohio by David Giffels
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Do Nothing by Celeste Headless
Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

For your friend who wants something “funny”
Anxious People by Fredrick Backman
The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
The Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman

For your friend who wants to “solve the puzzle”
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen
Death in Her Hands by Ottesa Moshfegh
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

And if you’re looking for a way to do something extra, I just discovered the United States Postal Service has a program called “Operation Santa.” This won’t be news to everyone as it’s been going on for years but if you, like me, hadn’t heard of it before I’ll drop a link here.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy holiday season, with a book (or two) to help you keep feeling strong!
-Stacey

Let’s Make Something Good!

Here we go, headed into the making-est time of the year! And even though the 2020 Holiday Season may not offer the exact same opportunities for celebration as previous years, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick and choose some favorite parts! Maybe you just want to experiment with new foods or you want to get back into crafting, this feels like a good time to change things up.

If you’re ready to start planning, why not take a look at the books available in Fall Harvest, Fall Flavors, Crafting for the Holiday Season, or Why Buy it When You Can Make it? And while you’re making new stuff, if you want a book to listen to, I just finished Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood -here’s hoping it the first in (long running) series!

-Stacey

Take a Break, Read a Book!

So you say you want to take a break but you still want to keep up with those timely topics of: Democracy and Spooookkkyyy Season? Guess what! You can tune out from some of the daily excitement, on both topics, with a …book! Read a little -have a little conversation, feel done with the conversation (I mean really, obviously chocolate is a better treat than a lollipop,right?!) and excuse yourself back to that page turner you’ve got going on!!

If you want to read something to keep up with your friends talking about Democracy, social issues, and past or current politics, check out the Five Days for Democracy collection. Feeling extra inspired? You can check out some of the resources on the 5DaysforDemocracy website, take a challenge or watch a video!

Or maybe you want to look over your shoulder a lot, think way too much about that strange noise, or stress eat some crunchy foods? Well then you might want to read a Spooky Book for Adults! (And keep checking back as new books are being added all the time!)

Me? Maybe I’ll give out chocolate *and* lollipops this year!

Whatever you pick, I hope it’s all treats and no tricks! -Stacey

What’s Your Voting Plan?

I’m sure you’ve seen this question recently, maybe many times recently, and I had been brushing it off. I vote. I was feeling all confident about knowing what I need to do, with my absentee ballot requested waaaay back in Summer. (Perhaps a little smug about my readiness to make sure my voice is heard?) And today I got a little reality check. I’m confident in my in-person voting, but there’s more to learn about absentee ballots….

Did you know postage due on your ballot might be greater than the value of one USPS forever stamp ? Due to size and weight, Cuyahoga County’s ballot may cost .65 and first class postage is .55. How do you know the cost for sure? You can stop in your local United States Post Office to get it weighed and postmarked, or call your county’s Board of Elections to confirm the cost. The Secretary of State’s site also includes information that you should not use a postage meter or online service to “affix postage” but can “use a postage label purchased at a USPS customer service window or vending machine” and “the date on the label is the postmark.” You should read the whole list for a better understanding, but key ideas have been highlighted in case someone is compelled to skim… (again, please read it all as it’s pretty short and very important!)

You can also drop your absentee ballot off at your local board of elections once early voting starts on Tuesday, October 6. (If you live in Cuyahoga County, October 6th is also the day when absentee ballots will be mailed out.)

If you’re a regular voter by mail and you have more tips for us newbies, please share your knowledge!

Alright so TL:DR: please be sure you’re prepared to vote on November 3, 2020!

– Stacey

5Days4Democracy -There’s Still Time!

Tomorrow is the first official day of the Five Days for Democracy event and you can sign up now, or any time this week, to receive Monday’s email! This might be the easiest program *ever* to join but will hopefully get you thinking and taking action, which can be hard work. It’s good for us flex those decision making muscles, it’s even better to feel like you made a positive difference for yourself and others. During these five days of emails, full of things to read or watch, small actions we can take every day or once in a while, and encourage discussion, all adding a little zing to your inbox! And who doesn’t need a little zing?!

Five days. Five challenges. Five ways to strengthen your role in our democracy.

—Stacey

5Days4Democracy -Join Us!

One of the things I most appreciate about being a citizen of the United States of America? I can make a difference each time I vote! And in-between elections, I can contact elected representatives, from local to Federal, when an issue is important to me!

From Monday, September 28 to Friday, October 2, Rocky River Public Library, our fellow public library systems in Cuyahoga County, and City Club of Cleveland are asking you to participate in Five Days for Democracy—a week dedicated to spending just a little bit of time each day thinking about what democracy means to you, why it’s important, and why it’s worth fighting for.

When you sign up, you’ll receive an email each day packed with opportunities to explore different facets of our democracy, in all its aspirations and failings. From listening to a podcast to watching a video, reading an article or responding to a call to action, each day you’ll pick one challenge to complete. And maybe you’d like to start reading a little something right now, like a little prep work for the week? Check out on of the many titles suggested in the 5 Days for Democracy collection!

Five days. Five challenges. Five ways to strengthen your role in our democracy.

Sign up at Five Days for Democracy and get ready to embrace your voting power!

—Stacey

An Apple A Day, plus other foods!

Wow. How did it get to be Fall? I’m a fan of cozy sweaters, beautiful Fall foliage, new school supplies (less this year than usual -obvs), and Halloween, but I’m not ready yet… are you?

It’s here, whether any of us are ready or not, and I have decided now is a good time to match up my excessive kitchen time with seasonal foods. Take that! (I don’t know who’s taking it but it felt good to put that there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) I need a few more apples and I can make King Arthur Baking Company’s Old Fashioned Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting (yum!) and then I”ll move along to searching for main meal options from books in the Fall Harvest collection… dessert should *always* be first!! If you have a tasty Fall recipe, please feel free to share! While I wait for ideas, maybe some soup?

-enjoy!
Stacey

Let’s Talk about Ohio

I don’t think there’s been anything really easy about this year so far and so I like to take a small win (or a rare 2020 big win!) whenever I can find one! I just finished reading Barnstorming Ohio To Understand America  by David Giffels and it’s definitely in my win column for this week!

Ohio. We are full of variety and contradictions. We are the 7th most populous state but 34th in total are; the top of the State gets incredibly cold with lots of snow and the lower half can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer with almost no snow; our economy is based on agriculture, industry, and innovative ideas; and there’s an incredible range of natural landscapes to explore. Ohioans have plenty to be proud about and issues we need to solve, but we are also an almost perfect cross-section of the U.S.A.

In Barnstorming Ohio, Mr. Giffels provides the current and historical context that helped me to understand exactly what it means to be seen as bellwether State for the Country. Having thoughtful conversations with the people who live in the “Five Ohios” (representing diverse voting communities) and offering great insights for what could be a larger, nation-wide conversation, this book was engaging, eye-opening, and easy-to-read. As we head into the 2020 General Election, you might also find this book worth checking out, and then we can chat!

(Small tangent -Did you know tomato juice is the official beverage of Ohio? Can we vote on that?)

—Stacey